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Depth was key to Braves’ success

Austin Rudquist was named the Most Valuable Player for the Menahga boys basketball team.

     Having 12 players see quality minutes provided the Menahga boys basketball team with the depth that helped produce a winning record this season.

     Having that many players see quality minutes should also help the Braves produce winning records in the future.

     Despite having only two seniors on the squad, the Braves were able to go 7-5 for third place in the Park Region Conference and compile a 14-11 overall record. In addition, the junior varsity ended the season with a 14-game winning streak and an 18-3 record while the C squad went 10-8, providing head coach Jeremy Nordick with plenty of optimism for the future.

     “Overall, the season was successful if you look at our whole program,” said Nordick. “There were some games that I went 12 deep on the bench. I really feel this will pay off for us the next couple of seasons.”

     That depth helped offset the loss of last year’s senior crew of Tanner Schwartz (24.9 points, 9.3 rebounds per game), Stetson Burkman (6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds per game), Brandon Junes (2.9 points per game) and Jeff Johnson (1.8 points per game) and made the Braves competitive this season.

     Menahga opened the season with a 59-49 win over Frazee, a 68-63 loss to Park Rapids, a 68-66 win over New York Mills, a 73-52 loss to Verndale, a 68-56 loss to Staples-Motley, a 55-53 loss to Long Prairie-Grey Eagle and a 55-52 win over Pillager before winning the Menahga holiday tournament with wins over Pine River-Backus (67-43) and Swanville (68-54).

     After opening 2014 with a 75-39 win over Sebeka and a 62-33 loss to Henning, the Braves put together a seven-game winning streak by defeating Pine River-Backus (67-61), Bertha-Hewitt (68-49), New York Mills (76-61), Verndale (65-58), Parkers Prairie (70-63), Sebeka (78-62) and Wadena-Deer Creek (74-50).

     That winning streak was followed by a five-game losing streak to end the regular season. Losses to Pillager (78-75), Henning (64-49), Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (72-61), Bertha-Hewitt (58-51) and Nevis (70-57) gave the Braves the No. 4 seed in the north for the Section 5A tournament.

     Menahga opened section play with a 78-57 win over No. 5 Parkers Prairie before ending the season with a 75-54 loss to No. 1 Browerville.

     Henning won the conference title with an 11-1 record while Verndale finished at 10-2. Following Menahga’s 7-5 mark were Pillager (6-6), Bertha-Hewitt (4-8), New York Mills (4-8) and Sebeka (0-12).

     For the season, the Braves averaged 62.9 points a game while allowing 60.3 points a night. Menahga shot 37.5 percent from the field, 27.3 percent on 3-pointers and 61.6 percent at the free throw line while averaging 15.4 turnovers a game.

     Leading the Braves this season were the 13 letterwinners: seniors Levi Schwartz and Bob Lusti; juniors Austin Rudquist, Austen Schwartz, Kyle Skoog, Jacob Kicker, Calvin Taylor, Nick Meyer and Blake Hillukka; and sophomores Aaron Hrdlicka, Aaron Rudquist and Darien Mickelson.

     Austin Rudquist and Austen Schwartz received Park Region Conference honors while Levi Schwartz received all-conference honorable mention honors. Receiving team awards were Aaron Rudquist (Most Valuable Player), Levi Schwartz and Lusti (Brave Award for Leadership), Skoog (Mr. Hustle), Levi Schwartz (Chairman of the Boards), Hillukka and Kicker (Lockdown Award for Defense), Lusti (Sharp Shooter), Taylor (Most Improved), Austen Schwartz (Top Assist), and Hrdlicka and Aaron Rudquist (Newcomers of the Year). Levi Schwartz, Austin Rudquist and Austen Schwartz served as captains.

     Austin Rudquist led the Braves in scoring at 17.4 points a game and rebounding at 7.5 per game. Rudquist shot 45.9 percent from the field and 77.4 percent at the free throw line while tallying 434 points, 188 rebounds, 41 steals and 11 assists in 25 games.

     Austen Schwartz averaged 14.4 points a game and led the team with 117 assists. Schwartz shot 34.2 percent from the field and 66.4 percent at the line while compiling 361 points, 52 steals and 39 rebounds in 25 games. The junior point guard was second on the team with 30 3-pointers.

     Levi Schwartz was third in scoring at 8.8 points a game and second in rebounding at 7.4 per game. In 25 games, Schwartz had 220 points, 185 rebounds, 37 steals, 18 assists and 16 blocked shots while shooting 42.8 percent from the field and 53.9 percent at the line.

     Lusti led Menahga with 33 3-pointers and was fourth in scoring at 7.5 points a game. Lusti shot 34.1 percent from the floor and 62.7 percent at the line while tallying 181 points, 53 rebounds, 36 steals and 18 assists in 24 games.

     In 22 games, Hrdlicka averaged 4.4 points a game while shooting 34.2 percent on field goals and 48.4 percent on free throws. Hrdlicka had 97 points, 94 rebounds, 30 steals and 11 assists.

     Skoog played in 23 games and shot 37.1 percent from the field and 21.6 percent at the line while averaging 3.2 points a game and tallying 74 points, 42 rebounds and 30 steals.

     Kicker averaged 2.4 points a game, shooting 32.1 percent from the field and 50 percent at the line while compiling 46 points, 28 rebounds, 25 steals and 13 assists in 19 games.

     Taylor played in 25 games and shot 30.8 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent at the line while tallying 51 points, 72 rebounds, 28 blocks and 14 steals.

     Aaron Rudquist played in 23 games, shooting 26.7 percent on field goals and 50 percent on free throws. Rudquist finished the season with 52 points, 44 rebounds, 11 steals and 10 assists.

     Meyer hit 37.5 percent of his shots and 83.3 percent of his free throws while tallying 23 points and 20 rebounds in 15 games.

     Mickelson played in 14 games and had 20 points while making 41.2 percent of his field goals and 83.3 percent of his free throws.

     Hillukka played in 17 games and had 8 points while Paulson played in 11 games.

     Also seeing some varsity time were sophomores Charles Haataja and Jordan Yliniemi and freshmen Kirby Hrdlicka and Luke Wurdock.

     “We graduate two seniors that have been staples in our program. Bob and Levi have been nothing short of outstanding with their leadership and dedication throughout. They really worked hard and worked well with the young guys every day and that says a lot about their character and the type of guys they are. They set a great example as to how to compete every night and bring that intensity that is needed to win in a tough section. They’ll be greatly missed,” said Nordick. “We return a lot of experience. The challenge now is on the eight juniors we have returning and the talented sophomores we will have to back them up. We will have a busy summer working on all aspects of the game. The great thing is, this is a great group of guys that have a positive, winning mentality. It should make for some great basketball come next season. Expectations will be high. We have set our goals. Now it’s time to work at them.”